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It’s My Grieving…Don’t Tell Me When To Stop!


So as a therapist, I am asked this question by every new client, “When will I be better?”


It’s a common question because we don’t want to feel pain, neither do we want to suffer or experience the torment of heartbreak.


And for most of our physical pain, there is a medicinal remedy that helps the pain ease, lessen, or completely go away. If we have a headache, we can take Advil or Tylenol, for an upset stomach, Pepto  Bismol, for a runny nose and cold symptoms and a cough Robitussin usually does the trick.


If our symptoms lead to a diagnosis of anxiety, depression or other forms of mental distress, we can be treated with a medication.


But, what is the treatment for a broken heart, betrayal by a lover, the pain of a breakup or worse the sudden and unexpected death of your spouse?

I have thought long and hard on this topic because others around me will not let me stop thinking about it. It’s their questions, responses  and criticisms that are expressed to me if I happen to look sad, feeling melancholy or if I cry.  Some of the most popular remarks have included, “Are you still crying over that?” the “that” being the death of my husband of thirty years.  “When are you going to get over it?” The “it” is referring to the betrayal by my husband. “How long has ‘this’ been?”  The “this” being the situation I am in due to the circumstances surrounding my husband’s death.


Do you really want to know the responses I suppress in my subconscious to these cold-hearted, rude, intrusive, insensitive and sometimes condescending comments? My subconscious mind which would have me say, “Mind your f business,” “None of your business,” and “Why you all in my business?”  This is why I hold my tongue during these encounters.

Instead, I will conjure up some polite way to say, “Stay out my business,” like “I agree I should be over it,” or “I am working on it,” and the big bullshit response, “I know you are saying this to me out of love.”


Still, I wonder why are those around me affected by my thoughts, behavior, and expressions of mourning, grief, anger, confusion, and despair at times over losing my spouse? Clinicians explain that they are experiencing vicarious trauma. Vicarious trauma is the stress that results from learning about another’s traumatic experience and helping or wanting to help another person who has been directly affected by such tragedy. This type of trauma shows itself with the same general range of symptoms as those who have been personally victimized by the event.


So, if I accept the tenets of this theory, it would force me to re-evaluate my responses to the probing questions by others about my mental status. But I am not going to do that.


You see the difference in those experiencing vicarious trauma is that these individuals probably care and really do have your best interest at heart. And just because these could be family members doesn’t mean this is the case.


One fake friend actually said to me: “I hid when I saw you in the mall because your life was falling apart so badly. I didn’t want it to rub off on me.” Then she added, “I finally feel comfortable speaking to you now.” Really? I wanted to scream at her, call her names for being so insensitive and so self- centered. I wanted to make a hell-raising scene right there in the mall. Instead, I raced to my car to cry.


To some, my words might sound bitter, angry, and harsh and I might agree to an extent because I am not too proud to admit that I still waffle between all of these emotions. I can honestly admit that some days I am okay. On those days I feel empowered, engaged, faith-filled and strong as the survivor of tragedy and death. Other days, I may feel sad, emotional and I am tearful and reflective on times when I felt life was at its best! But then there are those days when the squint in my eyes, the expression on my face and the growl in my voice says, “are you feeling lucky today?” “Warning…approach with caution.”


My fluctuation between these mood swings are signs that I am a work in progress. And the fact that I recognize and can accept the fact that I have not completely healed from the death of my husband indicates that there really is not a timetable for when my grieving will end. It also begs the question of whether or not my grief will ever end. I believe that losing someone who you loved, no matter the circumstances, leaves us all with a degree of loss, regret and even a broken heart. And there are seasons in our lives when the only real cure is to feel the pain – the problem is we rarely have an opportunity to grieve in private.


There will always be people– related or not, fake friends or not – who are just being nosy and don’t care to realize or accept the fact that there is a grieving process. And going through this process, which has no expiration date, is the medication. I believe they also watch us who grieve and they are forced to face the devastatingly scary question of “Could this be me someday?”


Unfortunately, the answer to that question is ‘Yes.’ One day you will walk in my shoes. We are all mortal creatures with an end date and each one of us will lose several loved ones and friends in their lifetime. How you handle your grief might be very different from how I have handled the mine.


From my experience, I can confirm that grieving is a roller coaster ride and there are stages of grief. First, the shock of what you cannot fully comprehend invades your brain. It’s as if you are watching yourself in a movie in very slow motion. Even the voices of sorrow and expressions of regret, are unintelligible. The words sound garbled like unintelligible sounds. I can recall this stage clearly. It hit me minutes after I was informed that my husband’s heart was “flat,” and “we are calling the morgue.”


There is the stage of denial. You are telling yourself that this did not happen. It was all a bad dream. I am going to sleep and when I wake up, life will be upright again.  But you are awakened by the sun in your face and look over to see the bed is empty. Next, someone walks into your bedroom with bloodshot eyes from crying and asks, “Are you ok?” I recall responding, “Why would I not be ok?” And then there was that look of fear on the face of your child that says they are in pain, scared and has been crying, but now they look scared for you — their mom.  In a hesitant voice, your child reminds you of what yesterday brought. “Ma, don’t you remember?” “Remember what? I ask.” “Mom, you’re scaring me.” Again, I asked why? And in a loud shriek, my child calls out for help.


An adult family member runs in and hears from my child that she is scared, something is wrong with me. “Mom doesn’t remember Dad died yesterday.” And with that declaration, I scream and cry into the pillow because my denial has come to an abrupt end.


The denial stage can last longer or shorter in time. For me, I was not allowed the luxury to linger in that period.


Then there is the stage that I call “devastating grief mixed with numbness.” I felt like I was just going through the motions or like I was being led and pushed as if I was blind and had a guide dog leading me through the world. For me this stage lasted the longest. Every day I awoke I felt as if I was in a hole and climbing was my daily job. But the climbing never got me out of the hole. This stage took me through a whirlwind of emotions that vacillated between depression and despair and hope and hopelessness.


So how did I get to a stage where I con function and sometimes not feel numb…through the grieving process is still ongoing?


In experiencing the stages, I don’t remember pulling myself out of each one. It is very weird, at least for me, that one day I woke up and I started feeling better. I can equate it to how a toddler learns to walk. No one teaches a baby to walk, one day they are crawling everywhere. Then one day they stand, but plop back down on their butt, numerous times. Each time they stand they feel more sure of themselves. And then the day comes when that baby stands and takes one step all alone. That was me. I crawled, then I pulled myself up, holding onto something or someone and then the day came where I could walk without help.


But I do still hurt and have serious regrets that sometimes present as resentment. I have unanswered questions of “Why me?” I don’t understand the master plan. I talk to God on the daily, on the hour, on the minute, some days every second. I am looking for that answer to the question, ‘When will my grieving end?” For now, that is a question that does not have an answer.



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